The NUmbers Guy: Northwestern’s Shot at Legends Division Lives On

WNUR’s Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) explains how Northwestern can still win the Legends Division and why the fans shouldn’t give up on the team yet.

Photo by Andy Manis/Associated Press

Photo by Andy Manis/Associated Press

Saturday re-defined the term “struggle-bussing.” Northwestern manufactured the parts, built the bus, drove it and burned it down to the ground in 60 minutes of football. BUT, in the greatest repetitive phrase of Coach Fitz, “Flush it.” If you take the Wisconsin game for what it was in the end, a loss, it still leaves the door open for Northwestern to win the Big Ten Legends Division. Let’s look at how because pictures of puppies just aren’t cutting it to make me happy anymore (although tiny rodents will suffice).

2: In the first two years of the Big Ten Championship, the four contestants have averaged two conference losses.

Hey, that’s the same number Northwestern has now! What a coinkidink! Soooo, this does include a four-conference-loss Wisconsin team last year that was aided by sanctions against Ohio State and Penn State, but the other participants have had one, one and two losses. It’s not done yet. HOWEVA, that does mean the ‘Cats have to win out if they want a chance, but we already knew that. They also need some help, so let’s de-muddle that water.

1: If Northwestern wins out, they will need only one additional loss from another team to win the Legends division.

Here comes the fun part. Strap on your thinking caps, kiddos, and let’s dissect this bad boy.

Assuming Northwestern wins out, they will automatically finish ahead of Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan (Bless your soul, Bill O’Brien) because of previous in-conference losses this season. That leaves Nebraska and Michigan State.

Both the Cornhuskers and Spartans have started 2-0 in Big Ten play this season. The two teams will face each other in Lincoln on November 16th. If we continue operating under the assumption Northwestern wins out, the Nebraska-Michigan State game will give one of those two teams a second conference loss, putting them behind the ‘Cats.

Outside of the Michigan State and Northwestern games, Nebraska also has a tough test against Michigan on the road. Obviously, Michigan isn’t what many thought they were after their victory over Notre Dame, but winning in the Big House is never easy. Two weeks later, they will head to Happy Valley, and, as they showed on Saturday, the Nittany Lions are no slouch at home, either.

The toughest part for Nebraska is that their final bye week comes this Saturday. After that, they will essentially play six consecutive must-win games. Nebraska may not have needed a healthy Taylor Martinez to beat Purdue, but I’m not yet convinced Purdue is an actual football team. They’ll need him in prime form to succeed in the home stretch.

Sean McEvilly is expected to return next week, reports Scout's Nick Medline Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images North America

Sean McEvilly is expected to return next week, reports Scout’s Nick Medline
Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images North America

290: The weight of Sean McEvilly.

Scout’s Nick Medline reported last week that McEvilly is expected to return from a foot injury next week. I SAID OH LORD PRAISE JESUS. It’s not a knock on Will Hampton or Chance Carter, by any means. It’s just difficult to ask those two to hold down the fort for nearly the entire game because the defensive tackle depth without McEvilly is so thin.

In the last two games, the only meaningful contests without McEvilly, the ‘Cats have allowed 248 and 286 rushing yards respectively. It’s the first time they have allowed 200 yards on the ground  in consecutive games since the final two regular season games of the 2010 season against Illinois and… Wisconsin, of course. That said, they allowed a grand total of 848 yards in those two games, so life could be worse.

The best part about all of this for Northwestern is that they have already played their two toughest games of the season. You could have made an argument at the beginning of the season that the Nebraska game would be worse than the Wisconsin game, but Northwestern just beat the Huskers on the road two years ago with an inferior team to the one they sport this year.

If Northwestern is able to win out, the odds are that they will win the Legends, if I had to guess. That is a mighty “if.” However, if the team can get Kain Colter and Venric Mark healthy and on the field on a consistent basis, the ‘Cats have the ability to rebound from two disappointing games to regain a magical season.

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